Don’t Underestimate the Hidden Social Influence

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ADAP – Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations – is a winning formula we’ve been sharing with clients for years to help them win more deals.  While our core focus has been on elements within the presentation context, we’ve been encouraging people to look for hidden social influence forces that prime audiences before you actually present.  Recently, there’s been increased interest in studying the role of hidden forces by researchers such as Jonah Berger (Invisible Influence), Robert Cialdini did (Pre-Suasion) and Ellen Langer (Counterclockwise), all discussing studies drawing the conclusion that external, supposedly random events, can have an impact on people

For instance, Jonah Berger shares a study in which readers were given a list of words for a memory test in which adjectives (e.g., reckless, and stubborn) were included in a list of nouns (e.g., furniture, and stapler). Another group were given positive adjectives (e.g., self-confident and independent) Later, they were given a description of a person (e.g., Donald) and asked to evaluate the person. While the two activities were presented at different times, so it doesn’t seem to be related, there were significant differences in how people evaluated the target person.

In another study (Bargh, Chen & Burrows), two groups of individuals were given a list of words describing older people. In one, they included stereotypical words (e.g., dependent, frail); in the other they given non-stereotypic works (e.g., independent healthy). The researchers then measured how these groups walked down a hallway – and found that the former group walked more slowly!

Thus, when you walk into a presentation setting, it’s critical that you pay attention to whatever prior events in some way may prime people – what other experiences have they had that might somehow influence them.  For instance, a client related how, after making it into the “final three RFP selectionâ€, he dazzled the client with an interactive workshop to show how well they could collaborate. But he lost, because, it turns out, the client was looking for “thought-leadership†direction. Initially the company was selected, because this is a strength, but their advocate missed the final meeting… and the remaining people took away a different message.

In sum, winning presentations involve a process of using ADAP at each stage of planning, presentation and follow-up (because sometimes you do get a second chance!).  What’s your experience?  Share it.